2023 in lists: concerts & shows, theatre, books, movies and TV

A work in progress …

Movies (seen on TV, probably on a streaming service, or on an airplane)

  • Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery: What I liked about this was how purely entertaining it was. It had no pretensions except to be enjoyable, and we did.
  • Amsterdam: The star power was incredible and I really enjoyed Christian Bale. But it was weird. When Mike Myers was on-screen, it became a Mike Myers film, and then when Robert De Niro was on-screen, it was a Robert De Niro film. The story seemed an excuse to put everyone together.
  • The Menu: Apropo of the news that the restaurant Noma is closing comes a movie that combines TV shows like Iron Chef and the Chef’s Table, the excesses of fine dining taken to a new level and combined with a dark horror show: this movie was absolutely bonkers and I loved it. 
  • Matilda, the Musical: We saw the musical in NYC one year and were interested to see how they expanded the musical into a movie. Love, love, love the music. Love everything about Emma Thompson’s performance. It’s a dark story, as bequeathed by Roald Dahl, and a lot of fun. 
  • The Big Sick: Having watched Kumail Nanjiani in Welcome to Chippendales, I wanted to see his breakthrough movie. It is superb. A story about a girlfriend in a coma, stand-up comedy and Muslim family life, it also happens to be a rom-com. Really. The writing is so smart and funny.
  • See How They Run: An amusing romp with fun actors, and probably more amusing if I’d seen ‘The Mousetrap’. 
  • Emily the Criminal: I was engaged by this, but such a dark film and a dark character: I didn’t love it. 
  • Good luck to you, Leo Grande: How can you not love Emma Thompson? But Daryl McCormack is a revelation, holding his own, in this engaging, charming, sex-positive story.
  • Don’t Worry Darling. I had heard this was good, but must have misremembered because the poor reviews align with my view. It was very pretty to look at, but it was surprisingly uninteresting and unoriginal.
  • Red, White and Royal Blue. My head is still spinning. When I was a teenager, I was starved to see gay men and gay relationships in the media. You could find them in arthouse foreign films, sometimes. No Hollywood actors were openly gay. Gay characters were usually unhappy, had bad endings, or eventually became sidekicks and snappy best friends. That the world has changed so that movies on streaming services get as much attention as those in cinemas. And that a film, much watched, can be released that is as gay and romantic as can be. With two straight actors who are not worried about playing gay roles, but just want to be ‘authentic’. The film itself was fine: silly, unchallenging and positive with attractive leads. My head is still spinning. In a good way.
  • The Banshees of Inisherin. I didn’t expect it to be so comic for much of the film, nor as dark as it got. Incredible performances. I’m glad I saw this. 
  • Cassandro. Gael García Bernal is wonderful and the subject is fascinating with great ambience. But then it doesn’t go anywhere. Not much story or character development. I’m glad I watched it but wish it was better. 
  • Erskineville Kings. Known for early performances of Hugh Jackman and Joel Edgerton, this 1998 low-budget Aussie film is a look into Aussie masculinity. It’s got a real vibe and sense of place (a bleak one) yet there’s not a lot of story to it. Interesting from a cultural viewpoint, but perhaps not a great film. 

Movies (seen in the cinema)

  • Avatar: The Way of Water: I can barely remember the first one, though I saw it and I remember some of the controversy over whether people liked the computer animation or not. I liked a lot about the film, the images, the world building, but could have done without all the violent battle scenes, and the story and characterisations were really basic and juvenile. It didn’t appeal to me.
  • Triangle of Sadness: Damn it. WTF? Winning the Cannes best film award and the bonkers trailer, we thought this would be amusing. But it was chaotic and shallow, and whenever hinting at some depth of commentary or thinking, it veered away. Too nonsensical to be entertaining and the criticism of the wealthy was as shallow as it portrayed the characters to be. 
  • Oklahoma (1999). This version of Oklahoma played in London, just after I’d left London and had arrived in Australia. So I was always curious about it, and particularly Hugh Jackman’s much lauded performance. They screened this in 800 theatres around the world to coincide with the musical’s 80th anniversary. And while it is boasted that the musical is timeless, how strange to see it in today’s light. The songs, many of them, are glorious and soaring and memorable. And some of them are ridiculous and hard to make work in any context. Jackman’s charisma is amazing and he injects such life into the work. But little can be done about the wet rag character of Laurie. And Ado Annie! It’s shocking that they’ve written a brainless nymphomaniac as a main character in 1943! While we’re obviously meant to laugh AT her, I mainly thought: whut??? The viewing was 3.5 hours! A long stretch. I’m glad I saw it though.
  • Joy Ride: I loved this film. Clearly meant to entertain but with lots of inside jokes for Asian-Americans along the way. It was groundbreaking without trying very hard, and I thought it was very, very funny. 
  • Barbie: I wasn’t the target audience, and while I found Margot and Ryan engaging and charismatic, I didn’t like the film as much as I’d hoped to. On the other hand, there is something very subversive about exposing so many young girls to the concept of the patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
  • Oppenheimer: Thankfully, we did not see this at the same time as Barbie. While I thought it was a little long (and that the last part of the movie almost felt like a different film), I was really entranced by the storytelling and love that a film dealing with such big moral questions in a smart, intelligent way is being seen by so many. I think it might be raising the average IQ of the world. One of the best films I’ve seen in the last few years. 
  • Theatre Camp: The reviews were good. And we loved Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen. But this film made us realise that we are not the show queens we thought we were. It wasn’t terrible, but it was just so underwhelming and not funny, like an inside joke, one critic said. 


  • Wednesday: I did find this entertaining, and Jenna Ortega is a star. I found it slow in parts and that it could have been a bit better, but I don’t think I was the target audience.  
  • The Resort: This science fiction time-travelling murder mystery was called a cross between ‘White Lotus’ and ‘Murders in the Building’, so we HAD to see it. Starring William Jackson Harper, Cristin Milioti and others, this was really engaging and whacky. We quite, quite liked it. 
  • Welcome to Chippendales: A sordid tale, told with camp abandon. Some critics have been calling it shallow but I found the performances great and was drawn in.
  • Fleishman is in Trouble: Such a dark vision of middle age, at least rich, straight, Jewish middle-aged New Yorkers with kids. And never have I seen a television show (a mini-series at least) with so much narration, literary narration since it was adapted from a book (that I loved) and that it worked. I found this to be amazing television: funny, sad, transfixing, engaging and original.
  • Borgen, season 3: Husband is watching this for the first time and I’m rewatching it. Such good TV. I’m transfixed by the great actors and wonderful storytelling. This was the season where Birgitte launched a new political party, the New Democrats. Excellent.
  • Smiley: A gay Spanish rom-com, told in eight episodes, based on a play. I actually found the writing really weak in parts, but I was so charmed by some of the characters, and felt their emotion, that I’m glad we watched it. 
  • Conversations with Friends: 12 half-hour episodes of dreamy melancholy, it took me forever to get all the way through it: I found something interesting about how natural the characters were and spoke and yet, in the end, not enough happened for me, not enough developed. Asked to engage with a lead character who is supposedly such a promising writer, but is, as clearly spelled out, unemotional, inexpressive and with little self-knowledge: in the end, I wasn’t on board. 
  • The Last of Us: A mushroom zombie thriller? It reminds me in parts of the Handmaid’s Tale, and then of horror films. The gay episode was spectacular and unexpected. I didn’t like it as much as everyone else seemed to, and some parts were weaker than others, but I was still engaged.
  • Beef: I’m still processing this but I loved it in so many ways, and it totally blew my mind. 
  • In Our Blood: A four-part dramatisation of Australia’s response to HIV. Having worked in the HIV sector here, I just found it too weird to relate to: how a complex success story was translated to a play then TV with some cover versions of songs at the time and marketed as a musical. 
  • Schmigadoon, Season 2 (Schmicago): If you love musicals, golly gosh, this show is so much fun. Stepping forward from Rogers and Hammerstein into Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, Cabaret and Sweeney Todd, the actors are clearly enjoying the hell out of themselves.
  • Poker Face. We loved Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll and I found this really, really fun, a retro vibe, unusually episodic. Yup, I enjoyed it. 
  • Modern Love Amsterdam. I always loved the Modern Love column in NYT, but have only caught a few episodes of the American television series. But both of us love Amsterdam and our Dutch friends, and it’s surprisingly attractive to just HEAR Dutch being spoken from our television. It felt sometimes like the storytelling was culturally unfamiliar, so I didn’t ‘get’ it all the time, but all in all, the series, only six episodes, was enjoyable.

Documentaries and Reality Television

  • Physical: 100. I’ve always liked TV competitions, such as Gladiators or the challenges on Survivor. But this was next level. Take 100 attractive and generally interesting athletes from Korea, and combine it with Squid Game and we were completely transfixed by this. 
  • Next in Fashion, Season 2: I was a little confused that this was an all-American version as I quite liked the international flavour of the last season. But it’s very good reality TV: no drama, just enough back stories, the focus was all on the talent, and I found it engaging and informative to see what fashion looks like now. 
  • Survivor Season 44: Husband watched almost all of the latest Australian Survivor series, Heroes vs Villains, which I think is so simplistic and dumb, I could barely watch any of it. The American version is clearly the standard. They know their storytelling, the competitors are gold and they’re constantly tweaking the formula to be surprising. Go Caroline!
  • Pamela, a Love Story: I read that this was worth a watch, and it definitely is. Pamela Anderson comes across as likeable and smart, and subject to a level of trauma and abuse that makes her a real survivor. Uncomfortable to watch that her major love story was basically from taking ecstacy for the first time. Yikes.  
  • Alone Australia: I never watched the other versions of this, thinking it sounded like a bunch of grim survivalists out in the woods. But my husband’s best friend is in it, and watching it, it is sensational TV and Gina is doing so well. Go Gina! (She won…)
  • Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate. What a story. What stories. Expertly woven together, I found it riveting and touching. Wow. 
  • Queer Eye Season 7 lands us in New Orleans, for me an interesting setting, and the formula, tried and true, works well. I think the Fab 5 have actually upped their game: they seem generally interested in helping their heroes, give genuine and skilled life advice and I often end up crying. I saw an old episode not long ago, the trip to Austraia’s Yass, and they were not so comfortable and polished, and actually a bit frantic. I think they’ve really settled in. 
  • Project Runway All Stars, Season 20. Surprising, after 20 seasons, that unlike RuPaul’s Drag Race, which I’m over, sadly, I still love watching Project Runway. Christian seems like he’s having a ball, and I really do love seeing the talent and the fashion (the drama not so much). 


  • Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is Lost. Review here.
  • Kevin Wilson’s Now is Not the Time to Panic. Review here.
  • Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. Review here.
  • Sharon Old’s Balladz. Review here.
  • Frans Stiene’s The Way of Reiki: The Inner Teachings of Mikao Usui. 

Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words

  • Lil Nas X: A We’re not really fans but wanted to see the phenomenon, and it was a phenomenon! A sold-out concert with a very diverse crowd, including children, who all seemed to know all the words to the song. Being at the Hordern Pavilion, I couldn’t see much from where we were; I’d plan better next time to try to grab a seat at the side. All in all, I’m amazed and pleased that a gay black rapper and musician has become so popular and loved. 
  • Sydney Modern: We finally visited the new addition to the Art Gallery of NSW and what a weird place it is. Absolutely loved some of the exhibitions and art, such as the theme of home, and the big primal sci-fi constructions in the oil tank in the basement. And yet there was no much open space and the greenery hasn’t grown. It felt in places like a convention centre. 
  • La Cage Aux Folles, The Concourse, Chatswood: I was surprised at how silly and old-fashioned this musical was, and to find out what a huge success it was at the time. Times change, I guess. 
  • Studio A’s Rainbow, Mermaid, Fireworks: An immersive exhibition by Rosie Deacon and Emily Crockford, these artworks are joyful and colourful. 
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the Capitol Theatre: Listen, the cast are enthusiastic and super-talented, but I think this is a dog of a show.
  • Tick, tick … boom! Lyric Theatre. I was very interested to see this show compared to the Netflix version. Interesting to see Hugh Sheridan, who I think is very talented, try to embody Jonathan Larsen. It’s an odd show with not much story or coherence, though you can hear, see and feel the flashes of brilliance that later made Rent a worldwide phenomenon. The other cast members were great but Elenoa Rokobaro was a sensation.
  • Into the Woods. Belvoir. Bogans behind us talking during the play and songs (I told them to please stop talking at intermission and boy, were they hostile) and someone in front of us fricking texting during the show. Fark! But it wasn’t enough to dim my love for this musical and some sensational performances. It really is one of my all-time favourites. 
  • Ásgeir, City Recital Hall. I always liked this Icelandic singer but didn’t expect him to be even better live. His voice was even more interesting and emotional, the orchestrations were punchy and tight. He sounded both very contemporary and like the first folk pop music that I heard that made my young heart ping with delight.
  • City of Angels. Hayes Theatre. I’ve known the song ‘You’re Nothing Without Me’ for more than 20 years, but have never seen the musical it came from. And what a delight it was. Funny, clever and busy, with dense, witty lyrics and joyous music. The assembled cast, as always at Hayes, is hugely talented and charismatic. 
  • Ottoman Baroque. The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra with the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlana Foundation. A mix of modern choral music, interpreting Rumi’s ‘This Marriage’, and traditional Ottoman-Turkish music then a religious Mevlevi ceremony. And we saw it here in Sydney instead of Istanbul! A curious evening. 
  • Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Darlinghurst Theatre. I really, really liked this. The multi-instrumentalist and multitalented cast, the staging, the music. I enjoyed it so much, I was OK with the story, which was sort of meh, and marvelled at how the vibe and talent outweighed it. The musical reminded me a bit of Sunday in the Park with George, where the plot was about art and being an artist, and this was about existing and being alive. 
  • Murder for Two, Hayes Theatre. It felt like this crazy musical was written by a pair of extremely talented friends who were having a ball doing it. What’s surprising was that it could be recreated, and so successfully, considering the talent that it takes to put it on: two actors who can both play piano really well and then act and sing and one of them doing more than a dozen characters. This conceit never faltered, and Gabi and Maverick were so amazing. The audience LOVED it, and so did we.
  • Culture Club with special guests Berlin. My friend Freddy booked these tickets but couldn’t go so I went with his husband. Our seats were a little too far back to feel very engaged but the crowd seemed to love it. 
  • The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Hayes Theatre. I saw a production of this years ago in Sydney, at the Seymour Centre, but when was it? 2015? It feels longer ago than that, but since this musical hit Broadway in 2005, it must have been well after that. No matter. I’d forgotten that it is nearly a perfect musical. It’s very funny and engaging, and moves along at a quick pace. Interestingly, all the songs are in the service of carrying the story forward. They’re tuneful and fun but I’m not sure if any stand on their own outside the musical. The cast was amazing. The only minor quibble is that I didn’t feel as emotionally moved, as with some shows, but it wasn’t really that kind of musical. Really: this was quite perfect. 

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Book Review: Sharon Olds’ Balladz (poetry)

BalladzBalladz by Sharon Olds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I must have discovered Sharon Olds’ book The Gold Cell in my late teens or early twenties, and then worked my way backwards as well as reading her releases when they came out. I wanted to write poetry at the time and Olds’ work was a revelation. I could feel the literary skill gathering the words together but it was her voice—personal, intense and confessional—that supported me to believe that I could write about my own life and identity, so long as it was crafted well. The flexibility and experience of poetry could make an incident or memory even more intense or sharp or considered in its telling.

So, I find it astonishing that Olds is now 80 and still writing such dynamic work, as published in the 2022 collection Balladz. Let’s just talk about the poem, ‘His Birthday’. On her partner’s 75th birthday, Olds masturbates, and orgasms four times. I have never read such a vital declaration of an older woman’s sexual pleasure. And no one but Olds could charge the conversational confession of the poetry with an image like ‘the full chrysanthemum / in each chamber of the sex’s heart’ or ‘a spider dropping down / to fix a hypotenuse for a web’ as a metaphor for her exhausted hand.

I found the poetry in this collection to be looser, more ecstatic and stranger than before, often conflating time, jumping off from a childhood memory or a random present thought to the poem’s core subject. I loved the acknowledgement of the world outside her poems – politics – which I don’t remember from previous work. Not being familiar with Emily Dickinson, I didn’t quite ‘get’ Olds’ Dickinson ballads (named the Amherst Ballads). And as other reviewers mentioned, it feels a little surprising that the same old memories of her mother (and being tied to a chair as punishment by her parents) keep resurfacing in these poems, when elsewhere she has such an amazing ability to be so precisely, luminously in the present moment. Though one of the same reviewers said that Olds has earned the right to write about anything she wants to. I don’t mean to be judgemental but I think life would be easier and lighter to be able to lay our trauma to rest. But perhaps that’s why I’ve always been so touched by Olds’ poetry: the emotion, the complexity. And perhaps I find this collection even more touching than what came before: so much poignancy in the many ballads singing of the dead, and building, building to the most poignant, the last poems for her partner Carl.

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Hi Andy, it’s Andy

I had a routine with Andy, whether by email or phone, where I’d immediately greet him with ‘Hi Andy. It’s Andy.’ This amused me inordinately and Andy agreed, telling me once, ‘It never gets old’.

Way back in 2011, in fact this same month of July, I met Andy for the first time. I was trying to set up my business as an editor, having left my work in the HIV sector. I had done a course on Book Editing and Publishing. I’d gotten some initial work, editing reports for PwC. But at that point in time, I didn’t know how I’d make a living from editing, what my strengths were, what more I had to learn. I’d also never run my own business before, and while it was a huge relief to not be working in an organisation with all its potential bad management and fighting and rivalries among staff members, it was also daunting to strike out on my own.

My friend John said that he knew someone who worked as a copywriter and that we should meet up. We did. At the time, Andy had started a small business with a colleague, working for many different clients. The role that I could play was to edit and proofread what they wrote. It was a great way for me to start learning about the writing services required by mostly other small businesses. I learned that everyone needs an editor, including editors and copywriters. And that someone whose strength is writing engaging text, like Andy, may not be as concerned with the details of grammar and punctuation.

We did lots of bits of work together over the next years and soon enough, Andy was referring me onto other clients who needed a proofreader, and to clients that I was a better fit for, or he didn’t want to take on. Not all of them were great clients. One contact of ours had taken on the job of project managing a website, setting it up and creating it, for I think a guy who had a security company. But the guy was dodgy as hell. She eventually called up Andy to ask his advice. ‘I’m being stiffed and not getting paid by this guy. Do I still have to pay Andy for his work?’ And Andy replied, ‘Of course you have to pay Andy for his work’. We made up an unkind nickname for her and laughed for ages about her incompetence and general cluelessness.

What I’ll always be grateful to Andy for was how generous he was in sharing his experience. I really had no idea how to price my work, particularly, and he walked me through how he’d quote for a job, and charge for it. He was so generous with his contacts, and to this day, I’m still doing copyediting and proofreading for one of his referrals, a terrifically talented and creative design studio. He even, when I was setting up my reiki business, provided me with the tagline that is on the back of my postcards and that I use on my online profiles: ‘invite the wellness of reiki into your life with a treatment today’.

Andy was a huge talent, so clever and creative. I was in awe of the way that he could find the right voice for different clients, from the City of Sydney to the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, from restaurants and food and beverage producers to tourism campaigns. He had a particular ear for a clever Aussie way of saying something, to the point of making up words that would not be found in the dictionary.

I admired his creativity outside of his work too. Years before I had met him, I had been a big fan of a comic strip that he published in the weekly gay newspaper, ‘Mr Gisby’s Totally Gay Pet Shop’. It was ridiculously funny, warped and completely original. He did skate board deck art. I found online some of his latest work, where he’d digitally printed the covers of pulp fiction novels that exploited queer identity (‘Gay Buddies’, ‘The Bashful Lesbian’) onto old-fashioned crockery, or ‘nana plates’ as he called them. He was funny, intelligent and subversive.

I also admired the life that he had created for himself. Long before the COVID exodus from Sydney of folks moving south and north, he had decided that he and his partner would move to Tasmania, which he loved, and from where he could still keep up with his work as a much-in-demand and world-class copywriter.

And now he’s gone. I just got the news a few days ago of a horrific car crash and accident in Tasmania, that happened in the late morning, almost noon. He was injured mortally and died in the hospital sometime later. If I’m being somewhat discreet by not mentioning his full name, it’s because he himself seemed to be keeping himself offline with few digital traces. When I searched for him online after hearing the news, I saw that he’d removed himself from Facebook, but not only that, he was barely to be found. His work website and LinkedIn profile are still up, but considering all the ties he had built in his new community, and his talent as an artist, I was surprised to find so little. There are also others online with his name, even another copywriter.

I’m surprised how unsettled I feel. I knew Andy more professionally than as a friend, and we weren’t close. But, as I said, I’ll always be grateful for his generosity to me while I was setting up this career, and I’m upset that he’s no longer alive in this world, prodding and needling it with his fierce humour and clever, clever voice. I don’t write outside of my work as much as I used to, but it seems appropriate to honour this talented wordsmith with words. Hi Andy. It’s Andy. I’ll miss you. Thanks for everything.

Posted in Blogging, Creative Non-Fiction, How to live, Writing | 2 Comments

Book Review: Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting controversy, I can see, from the reviews on Goodreads. A dear friend recommended this to me, although he said I might not like it, if I’m not into science fiction, and he warned me about the hard-going physics of it. I was excited, immediately, to discover a science fiction book set in a completely different cultural milieu than the ones I know, and particularly to read about the Cultural Revolution. I generally found the virtual reality video game stuff pretty engaging, for a while, and that part of the book had a good feeling to me, the momentum of a detective thriller. But I have to admit getting lost by the discussions of the physics problems and the characters are, as described in other reviews, not only thin, but I found very much lacking in emotion. I wasn’t engaged that a character can kill her husband and a colleague and no emotion or very little is shown. Later in the book, with plans to use technology to slice apart a ship, it felt to me like nerdy boys, divorced from reality, all talking over one another to create the plot of a complicated action movie or make something really monumental out of Lego. Near the end (luckily, having been warned that the book does not end but is only the start of a trilogy) the discussions of political and morality just didn’t come alive for me, and then the physics talk became really, really complex. I’d be willing to stick with it if there some sort of pay-off, but for me there wasn’t. There were too many removes for me to be connected or engaged: whether cultural or genre or physics. Still, it’s obvious that the trilogy has a huge readership of fans, and so there’s obviously lots of appeal. Just not for me. And with it being a literary and cultural phenomenon, I’m glad that I’ve read it so at least I know what the fans are talking about.

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Come dine with me: Dessance, Paris

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a blog post on a restaurant, but for Dessance, I’ll make an exception. With so many exceptional restaurants in Paris, I always recommend that friends treat themselves to at least one very special meal while visiting (if not more!). When I had the opportunity to be in Paris in March 2023, I decided that Dessance would be my choice.

I’ve eaten here twice before but not for at least seven years. While I could have went in search of one of the new restaurants mentioned in food guides and blogs, I decided that if Dessance was as good as it was, I’d be happy to return AND it wasn’t hard at all to make a reservation (unlike at other hotspots). I did have one moment of hesitation, wondering whether it would be awkward to be eating alone.

But I’m happy to report that Dessance is as good as I remembered. I had a spectacular meal. The service was perfect and charming. They allowed me to try to practice my French and only for a few words did I need to ask for a translation.

The menus on offer are an ‘earth & sea’ six-course tasting menu (EUR 72) or the vegetarian menu (EUR 64) and of course, I did the matching wines (EUR 39) with four glasses.  I also couldn’t resist the cheese course (EUR 15). And I would consider the amuse-bouches at the start of the meal and the petit fours at the end courses in themselves, they were so beautiful.

The restaurant itself is very beautiful. I should have taken a few photos. It’s quite small but with the mirrored wall at the back, I always think it’s bigger than it is. There are a few tables upstairs in a sort of alcove above the kitchen, and downstairs, there’s a lovely open sense of space with a super-high ceiling. It feels elegant but not stiff.

I loved all of the dishes. Looking at the photos now, they appear less beautiful than they were. The element of surprise and playfulness doesn’t come through as I often didn’t know what was in the dish until I tried it or it was explained to me. For example, this, I believe, was the pollack covered in a clementine sabayon. I’m a little embarrassed that I’m not completely sure. My note-taking on my iPhone was of mediocre quality. The larger photo above was lobster carpaccio, with an orange croustillant, a crisp, which was typical of the food here, almost always a textural element added, like roasted buckwheat or quinoa.

I always find it hard to keep track of the wine during a tasting menu like this, but I liked them all. For example, with the smoked eel, with beetroot, dill and horseradish foam (The dish at the very top of the page), I received a glass of orange wine from French Catalonia. With the cheese plate with Bleu d’Auvergne, Brillat-Savarin and Saint Nectaire (oh my god, the cheese in France!), I was served a sweet wine.

This dish of cod with dill and a broccolini tapioca was such an interesting combination of textures. And very delicious.

Something I found completely delightful (as I have at a few other restaurants) was the opportunity to watch the chefs at work during the whole meal. They move around each other in a graceful dance, and you can see how the dishes are assembled, and the expertise and artistry involved. Finally, the desserts. Rather than a rich and decadent dessert, say involving chocolate, I found it an interesting choice to serve such light desserts focused on fruit. The kiwi, aloe vera, sorrel and green pepper sorbet was refreshing and surprising. A soup of sorts!

And then a chestnut cream with tangy grapefruit and pomelo. Yup. It was very, very yummy.

I realised at the end of the meal that there was no problem at all with dining alone. I was fully engaged in tasting and enjoying each dish, sometimes closing my eyes and focusing on what was in my mouth! I enjoyed just soaking in the atmosphere and the experience, and counting myself so lucky to be able to eat such a wonderful meal at a wonderful restaurant in Paris.

The next time you’re there, I recommend you try Dessance. They’re at 74 Rue des Archives – 75003 Paris, and you can visit their website here.

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Some advice for Paris, particularly FOOD

Because I’ve been lucky enough to live in Paris twice – four months in 2014 to 2015 and three months in early 2016 – I am sometimes asked for advice. And I freely give it. From my Dad, when I was growing up, I learned a restaurant or business should come recommended. The best advice would often come from someone you know.

When I started travelling the world, it was in the age of the travel guides: Let’s Go! and others. They were all about someone who had inside knowledge and experience passing it on to the hundreds or thousands of people who were reading the book! I’ve often searched long and hard for a particular cafe or tourist destination, determined to follow advice I’d received from a friend, or a friend of a friend, or from an article in the New York Times.

So my first advice about Paris may seem counter-intuitive. The thing is, in my experience, so many people have been to Paris and love Paris, that they will offer advice, a lot of it, about their absolutely MUST-do activities. And the truth is: Paris will be magical, and will be yours, so my first advice is not to worry about taking everyone’s advice. Including mine. If something catches your interest, it can be a fun adventure to seek it out. I often build my travel around various missions: certain restaurants or treats or a tour of used designer clothes stores. But cities will offer you their own gifts, especially Paris.

I’m a particular fan of the almost-free bike system in cities like Paris. It is astonishing that you can ride around freely, often in wide bike lanes, but even in traffic, it seems like Paris drivers are so used to chaos, and cyclists, and pedestrians, that you should feel safe and easy. These days I think you need to download their app, and use their app, and you can rent cycles for single trips, or for a day, or with some difficulty for three days at a time. I love riding on a Vélib in Paris. I feel utterly free. Exhilarated. Getting lost is part of the fun.

If you don’t have time or choose not to do the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay is wonderful. In that whole area, on the lovely bridges and river, when the gypsies throw rings at you, or ask if you lost it and thrust it in your hand, return it and ignore them. Similarly, if you’re up at Sacre Coeur (I love the church and the view is wonderful, though during the day, it’s a bit touristy and the shops are terrible), when the African string men try to tie string around the wrists of you or your party, politely refuse and move on. But don’t get aggressive with them, as that’s their aim.

I think it’s a lovely thing to go to a humble French restaurant, the tables all close together, and the menus all nearly the same. Tripadvisor or Google Maps will give you reviews for ones near where you’re staying. A friend told me in 2023, the new trend is to go to a bouillon, a classic French bistro serving humble food at not high prices. I should have checked them out myself! If you’re in the Marais, I really like the restaurant Dessance: it’s very good value for such a gourmet meal, not the top-end of restaurants (which are so expensive) but a treat nonetheless, and you should treat yourselves to AT LEAST one lovely meal while in Paris. You can watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen; the staff are utterly charming, and the food is surprising and delicious and wonderful.

I also love the Israeli food and falafels in the Jewish streets of the Marais (Rue de Rosier), an ‘ethnic’ break from French food, but really, the only reasonable and nice non-French food in Paris (Asian food was terrible (though perhaps improving?) and other cuisines will be expensive and generic, though Moroccan or Tunisian restaurants can be pretty good. L’As du Falafel is famous.

Do take a break, if you have the time, from restaurants and have a lighter meal at your AirBNB (which I always recommend over hotels in Paris; they’re often very charming, and better value, and located in more interesting locations). Pop into a grocery store (you’ll likely see Monoprix, Franprix and Carrefour) and the cheese will be of such quality and such a bargain, it may make you sad ever after you’ve left France. Maybe some paté campagne? The grocery stores sell liquor and have the most interesting selections of French aperitifs, like Lillet Blanc or Floc de Gascogne. They’ll cost a pittance. Have a little glass to fortify you each evening before you head out for your evening activity.

I find no greater delight in Paris than the pastries. If you see a sign that says a boulangerie has won a prize for best croissant or baguette, go in and buy one! They’re crazy good. My trip in 2023, I discovered a new pastry, le pain de seigle feuilleté: it’s made from rye flour and tastes like a croissant with many layers but in the form of bread. I chased down mine at Les Copains du Faubourg (as recommended by the New York Times) but the bakery near my AirBNB (La Parisienne St Germain) also had them, so, even though a friend from Paris said she’d never heard of it, maybe it’s a new trend?

I think it’s really important to try a pastry from a shop that will be glowing and sparkling and looking like they sell jewellery or expensive watches instead of just pastries! Splurge (because when’s the next time you’ll be in Paris?). I am ALWAYS telling my friends to go to Aux Merveilleux de Fred (there are branches all over Paris, look on Google). Based on a traditional recipe from Northern France, they’ve shrunk a cake to individual portions, basically a meringue filled with cream, and covered in chocolate flakes. They’re unbelievable. Don’t go for the small ones: the proportions are wrong. Have a proper big sized one. Please.

Still, there are astonishing pastry shops on Rue du Bac, and all over Paris. Macarons were a bit thing for a period, especially from Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, and I mean, you should certainly try one, but do also try a fancier pastry. Or two. Or three. On my last trip, I discovered the Pierre Hermé are also renowned for their pastries, in additions to their macarons. I tried two varieties, and my god, they were incredible. Actually, as weight control, I skipped lunch one day … and had a pastry instead. The description on this one said: The 2000 feuilles presents a harmony of textures: caramelized puff pastry and crushed hazelnuts contrast with the creaminess of its praline mousseline cream.

A favourite meal in Paris is a hole in the wall (the space is literally called ‘Le trou dans le mur’) where the wall happens to be the back of a really great wine shop, La Cave des Abbesses (it’s below Sacre Coeur, not far from Montmartre). You order une planche (a platter, a plank?) of cheese and meat, and my god, it’s the best cheese and charcuterie EVER. Wash it down with aperitifs or a wide selection of reasonably priced French wine. I can’t recommend this enough.

I also find a wonderful mystery of Paris is how good the baguettes are. When pondering this, a friend explained that it’s not a surprise that they taste different in Paris than elsewhere, when the flour, yeast, butter and water are ALL different. One of my favourite Paris food writers, David Lebovitz, recommended a sandwich from Le Petit Vendôme, centrally located a stone’s throw from Opéra. You have to sit at the counter, rather than at a table to order a sandwich, but my god it was good. I’d wager that it was *perfect*.

So, you’ve probably gotten the impression that I could go on and on. And I could. The best caramels you’ve ever had in your life, from Jacques Genin. A wander around the food hall at La Grande Épicerie. I myself love to wander slowly around a department store like La Samaritaine or Printemps and see the latest and greatest in fashion (and wonder who can afford to pay $500 for a t-shirt). The best (and most expensive) chocolates you’ve ever tasted, maybe from Paul Roger. I like spending time in some of the beautiful old churches in Paris. I’m not religious but I feel a quiet sense of wonder that I don’t feel in newer churches. But honestly, there is so much you will discover on your own, I should leave you to it! Enjoy and leave comments if you will and what you enjoyed the most. But one last thing … When it gets dark, on the hour, until 11pm, take a stroll somewhere where you have a good view of the Eiffel Tower (from Palais de Tokyo perhaps). You will not be disappointed. I can’t believe I didn’t know about it until …

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Book Review: Kevin Wilson’s Now is Not the Time to Panic

Now Is Not the Time to PanicNow Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked ‘Nothing to See Here’ enough that I was definitely keen to read more. I find Wilson a very interesting writer. The narration is readable, funny and engaging, and he seems to take a great idea and then run with it. Case in point: this book. It feels like it came out of a central idea (no spoilers here) and Wilson created a world around it: a past, present and future, quirky characters, details and consequences. I thought it was very skilful how he portrays a particular moment in time, while contrasting it with today (for example in how the story played out in a pre-social media world). He has a lot to say, about moral panic, about the spreading of ideas, about anonymity and a lack of it, about the consequences on people’s lives, and yet all stealthily deployed in a lively narrative. Recommended.

View all my reviews

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Travel advice: Italy – A visit to the Gargano

View of Pescichi

It’s April 2023 and I recently found this blog post from 2019 that I never posted! I think I drafted it and then was planning to match it up with photos once at my home desktop … and then never did. Better late than never, I say, and we really do recommend Gargano as a place to visit. We really fell in love with Puglia and Sicily!

We’ve often been inspired by articles in the New York Times to guide our travels. In fact, this was one of our inspiration’s for last year’s trip (2018) to Puglia (we also visited Sicily, Matera and Ravello) and we loved Puglia so much and the rest of our trip, that we decided to return to Italy again this year for our holidays.

View from Gli Orti di Malva, a great, great B&B

And even though the Gargano peninsula seemed a little out of the way, the NYT article we read made it seem so charming, we wanted to fit it into our itinerary (which this year focused on Umbria and Abruzzo). By breaking up the travel and staying in Abruzzo on the way there and back (which we’d highly recommend for its natural beauty), it was manageable to visit Gargano (or you could pop up from the south of Puglia, if you’re there already).

Our timing was a little off though. As soon as October hits, it seems like most places are deserted, and the agriturismo accommodation that we like so much, closes down for the winter. We didn’t mind it being quiet, but it did seem a little eerie sometimes, like a zombie apocalypse had hit, particularly if we visited a town during siesta time (which could be as long as from noon to 6pm!).

Everything about our meal at Porta di Basso was … perfect.

In the end, we would recommend a visit here, but in September rather than October (or the start of the tourist season) and as a somewhat luxury holiday: staying at gorgeous, not-cheap accommodation, and treating yourself to high-end gourmet meals: because these really were stunning.

The thing is, the view of Pescichi, driving in, took my breath away. And then the room in Gli Orti di Malva where we stayed in took my breath away further. It was the type of room that I would have been happy not to leave, just to sit atop these views of the ocean, high up on a cliff. It was magical. Then, I wasn’t even paying attention that the accommodation is connected to one of the best places to eat in the Gargano, Porta di Basso. Aside from ridiculously gourmet breakfasts, we treated ourselves to a dinner at this Michelin-starred restaurant and it was WONDERFUL.

I love that we got a photo of us with the chef!

We couldn’t get into the agriturismo place mentioned in the NYT article, but imagine it would be like the amazing meal we had outside of Spello when we stayed at Il Bastione: a lavish, home-cooked meal of local specialties.

Finally, we managed to get into the last place mentioned in the article, Li Jalantuùmene, and it was incredible. We couldn’t book into the accommodation (it was full, I think) but I’d recommend that as the perfect end (or start) the gourmet Gargano experience. I thought Mont Sant’Angelo was a very charming old town, and the meal deserved a Michelin star: the chef was so warm and personal, it actually made it the most memorable (and tasty) meal of our entire trip (Actually, I wrote about it at the time. Here’s the blog post).

So, there you go. I’d recommend three nights in Gargano, two in Pescichi and one in Mont Sant’Angelo, staying at the same places that you’ll be dining, and treating yourself three nights in a row to stunning meals. Perhaps you’ll want, as I will, to do a post-trip diet!

Mont Sant’Angelo was overcast when we visited, but I liked the vibe a lot.

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The Central Sydney Planning Strategy

Originally published on 28 November 2016 on www.boldface.com.au:

Town Hall, Sydney – 17th August 2016. The Central Sydney Planning Strategy Briefing was held in the Reception Room at Town Hall.

As a member of the City of Sydney’s Professional Writing Panel for the three years that it was in existence (they’ve now moved to getting bids from editors for each individual project…), I had the chance to work on a great many fantastic projects.

The largest of them was the Central Sydney Planning Strategy.

Here’s how they described it when it was released:

The City of Sydney has developed a strategic vision for Sydney’s future skyline with potential building heights in excess of 300 metres – 80 metres taller than Governor Phillip Tower – while still protecting sun access to the city’s important public places and parks.

In the most comprehensive urban planning strategy for Central Sydney in 45 years, the City has identified opportunities to unlock up to 2.9 million square metres of additional floor space for retail, hotel, cultural and office needs to meet long-term targets for the city centre’s growth… more

They also got some good press when it was released, a very supportive editorial and a great article accompanied by a very cool video.

It was exciting to see what they have planned for my adopted home city of Sydney, and the team who put it together are smart, dedicated people working to make Sydney a better place.

I learned lots of new stuff, about urban planning, about balancing residential and commercial interests, about regulations to protect heritage and the environment.

There are consultations and discussions on the document now, while it is in public exhibition. Tomorrow, there will be a strategy discussion. Stay tuned for more.

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Superbly written spam

Originally published on 24 November 2013 on www.boldface.com.au:

We’ve all passed comment on poorly written spam, particularly those Nigerian letters asking you to send your bank account details so that they can transfer a load of money to you, or the emails from your ‘bank’ with basic spelling errors.

I thought I’d point out the opposite. Well, not actually opposite, in that this spam, a comment waiting for moderation on a blog post, is not beautiful writing in and of itself. But I think it’s really fantastic in fulfilling its purpose, to try to get published, though the author (or robot) probably didn’t expect to be published in this form.

Magnificent goods from you, man. I have take into accout your stuff prior to and you are simply extremely wonderful. I actually like what you’ve acquired right here, certainly like what you’re stating and the best way in which you assert it. You’re making it entertaining and you still care for to stay it smart. I can’t wait to learn much more from you. That is actually a wonderful website.

OK. I’m exaggerating. ‘Account’ is spelt incorrectly and ‘you still care for to stay it smart’ is a mind-twister. Still, it’s so wonderfully vague. The ‘goods’ could refer to either a product or the writing itself. It piles on the praise, so unspecific that it feels like it could be specific. I ‘like what you’re stating… and the way in which you assert it’.

The different forms of praise are impressive: previous knowledge of one’s work or reputation, personal praise: ‘you are simply extremely wonderful’, praise for the writing itself appealing to someone who wants to be 1/ entertaining 2/caring and/or 3/smart. The spambot tries to establish a personal connection (‘I can’t want to learn much more from you’) before admitting (‘actually’) that it’s not only read the blog post but the whole website.

As a bit of marketing, whoever wrote this out put some thought into: ‘How can I appeal to the widest number of website owners and bloggers in a way that they’ll be more likely to accept this as a comment which allows me to put my spammy e-mail address or website in their comments? How can I not let on that I haven’t read the post and am indeed a robot?’

Well done, spambot writer. I hope someone paid you well for your work.

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